The Smiling Pillow, Todd Herman, and the Thief

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  • GM Avetik Grigoryan GM Avetik Grigoryan

The Smiling Pillow, Todd Herman, and the Thief

I stole from Todd Herman — one of the world’s leading experts on the mental game and peak performance. But his concept was too good not to be stolen! I wish I’d heard about it earlier…

Improvement Hacks | 6 min read
The Smiling Pillow, Todd Herman, and the Thief

Richard Feynman said it nicely “Knowledge isn’t free. You have to pay attention.”

I not only paid, but I stole something from a man who has coached legends like Kobe Bryant and Christiano Ronaldo, Rafael Nadal, and others.

And I don’t feel bad about it.
I feel I’m Robin “chess” Hood.

You judge me.

I was going crazy

In the first week of the New Year, I made plans and huge to-do lists.
There was a lot to accomplish and my heart struck like a clock every time I started a new task!

What projects will we pursue this year? What courses will we create, and what articles will we write? What are the features we’ll add, and so on…

I even shared the plans with our students. Now they are expecting great things from me.

I separated it all into the things we’ll do this month, what we will do this week, and what tasks are to be done today.

I had a plan. I was excited to execute everything.

But then I went crazy.

Every morning I would see the long to-do lists and every day I would get discouraged.

My performance went down. I was disappointed in myself. Nothing would get done.

I spoke with Brendon Burchard, a well-known high-performance coach, and following his advice, I started journaling using his app.

One of the questions the app asked every morning was:

I would know that today was a great success it at the end of the day I did, said. or felt...

Hmmm, I didn’t know the answer. What would make a day successful? If I finished a course? Responded to all emails? Got more subscribers?

I was stuck! None of those answers felt right. I thought back in the past, about the days that felt good at the end versus the days that felt bad. What did I do on the days that felt good?

And then I wrote:

I would know that today was a great success it at the end of the day I did, said. or felt ... If I did my Best!

I couldn’t control many things during the day. I couldn’t control how many subscribers we had. I couldn’t even control if I would finish a course, or an email, since sometimes they take time to make them just right.

But doing my best…That I can control!

This is where I wanted to focus.

Then I asked my designer friend to make an image for my Desktop.

One step at a time

This would remind me of just moving ahead, one step at a time, and doing my best on every single step.

My life transformed.
I felt so relieved.

No more frustration.
Happy Avetik was back!

Focusing on input, and focusing on doing my best, is what saved me during my professional Poker career. I shared this, and the KPI technique, in the “Detachment” article.

But sometimes I forget my own advice. At the beginning of this year, I forgot it and I felt overwhelmed…and a bit crazy.

And when I forget that the one thing I can control is doing my best, I get frustrated.

Fortunately, I have recently heard about “The Smiling Pillow” concept.
I wish I had heard of this earlier.

How I stole a pillow

In my heart, I’m romantic. I’m playful. I love to have fun.

“Do your best, every single minute, and every single second” reminds me of that “Hustle, hustle, hustle” mindset. Which is fine, but it’s not always in sync with my romantic heart.

What if some days it’s best to be peaceful and playful? I don’t want to associate success with “hours spent hustling”.

That’s why I would forget it sometimes.

But when I heard about the concept of “The Smiling Pillow”, I knew that was what I was looking for.

The concept belongs to Todd Herman, one of the world’s leading experts on mental game and peak performance.

Todd Herman

“So many people think it's about results. Did they win? Did they lose? I do not care at all - zero - about the results as much as I care about:
Did you bring everything you could to your performance”, Todd told me.

“There is probably nothing more powerful for people to use as a metric for success,” Todd said, “than to see how many days can they get a streak of smiling pillows?.”

Smiling pillow? What did he mean?

He told me and I fell in love with the concept.
And then I shamelessly stole it 😁

All credit and thanks go to Mr. Herman.

Will you say “Yes”?

You have an important game tomorrow. What do you do?

Well, you can’t become better overnight.

You can’t control the result of the game, and you can’t control if your opponent will play stronger or weaker.

The only thing you can control is doing your best and making your pillow smile at night.

When you look back at the day, can you sincerely tell your pillow you did your best?

Did you do your best before the game? Did you have healthy food? Did you meditate? Did you prepare well? Did you do your best during the game? Did you focus? Did you stop watching other games, and instead concentrate just on yours?

These are the questions your pillow will ask at night.

After a long day of winning, losing, working, pushing, playing, performing, did you do your best? Your pillow wants to know these final thoughts of the day before it wraps you up into sleep.

And even if you lost the game, but to each question you answered “Yes!”, your pillow will smile and you’ll be at rest.

Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment. Oprah Winfrey

The same concept works when you train.

You might have big long-term goals. Getting to 2,000, getting the IM or GM title.

And you might have a long to-do list. To read X Y Z books, watch X Y Z courses and so on…

It’s easy to get frustrated. It’s easy to get sidetracked. To think, “it’s ok to play a few bullet games or watch random videos. It’s ok to not go over some of my games.” We all have our excuses. But most of these excuses are ways we avoid doing our best during training.

The pillow will not smile then! Hence Todd’s great metric, “How many smiling pillows in a row can you get?”

Focus on doing your best. Focus on making your pillow smile.

“Did you have quality training?” “How many new things did you learn today?” “Did you do your best?” “Did you do the courses, the reviewing, the puzzles, the studying you know will improve you?”

If your pillow likes your answers, it’ll smile.
You’ll smile. You’ll be at peace.

Smiling pillow

And the results will not make you wait too long.

Doing your best each day ultimately forges the best results. You are the sword that is being sharpened.
Doing your best is the fire that sharpens you. I have seen this happen 1000s of times.

Did I…or did I not?

It’s been a week since I have focused on my pillow, and we talk at night.
My pillow asks me gently:

“Did you do your best at work?”
“Did you take care of your team?”
“Did you do your best for your students?”
“Did you share love?”
“Did you live your day the way you wanted?”

And during this week, I can tell you, I sleep better. I do better and I’m happier.
And that is when each day melts into a dream.

Remember, if you have a long-term goal, it’s gonna be a marathon.

One step at a time.
Try to do your best. Every day. Every hour. Every minute.
And try to make your pillow smile every night.

For your growth, happy journey, happy life, and good sleep,
GM Avetik

What’s next?

Got any questions or want to share your thoughts?
Feel free to share them on our forum

Here is the link to our interview with Todd Herman:

Here is the link to my favorite interview with Todd Herman and Tom Bilyeu:

Here is the link to Todd’s great book:

Here is the link to the mentioned “Detachment” article:

Here are the links, to find more tips and techniques about doing your best during your games:

It’s your life, your chess journey, and your next click.

Originally published May 09, 2023

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